We first met Wallace Chan in Paris last July, when he told us about his journey crafting the jeweled masterpiece “Secret Abyss.” What separates Chan is not simply the striking beauty of his pieces nor his ability to defy physical laws, as he somehow manages to magically place gems inside of gems — but his approach differs. In the case of the “Secret Abyss,” he spent four years searching for the perfect rutilated crystal.
For Chan, “jewelry design is also a kind of magic. Because when we act, when we make something with the heart, everyone is a magician. If our heart is truly steadfast, even the most impossible deeds can surely work out.”
Chan studied a wealth of classical arts, including Chinese painting, oil painting, and pencil sketching, and he made carvings in jade and coral. He also lived in a monastery as a Buddhist monk, where he sculpted Buddha statues and divine condors for Buddhist towers. His experiences all harmonized when an admirer of his works asked him to make a pair of earrings from two diamonds. Once he finished his creation, the client sparkled in admiration, and a new chapter began in the maestro’s life.
Taste of Life (TOL): How do you find worthy gems and antiques?
Chan: I used to go everywhere looking for good gems, but they were very hard to find. I spent all my energy over each piece of work, very carefully, to make it the best possible piece. Slowly, people came to know that my creations have a soul… I knew if we want to do the best, to be the best craftsmen, good things will naturally come to us.
TOL: How did the period when you were a monk sculpting Buddha statues and towers affect your creations?
Chan: When I was in the order, I gave up everything. I understood ‘abandonment,’ and only by abandoning can we acquire — we can only achieve success through sacrifice. ‘The great way has no doors, only love is the path.’ I’m cultivating an attitude of loving Heaven, loving the earth, loving every living thing and loving people. I hope that when people look at my work, they would say, this is the work of someone with love in his heart and feelings in his bosom.
TOL: How do you marry Eastern philosophy and Western craftsmanship in your jewelry? At what point are you satisfied with a jewel?
Chan: The sea envelopes many a mountain; it is great by its tolerance. In terms of craftsmanship and goldsmiths, the Western world has a deep background and technique. We have to learn this from the Western world. But I would also use traditional Chinese techniques, like the use of mortise and tenon from Chinese architecture. If I’m telling a story, then it would be the most simple of stories, the stories of mankind. Day after day, year after year, flowers bloom then fade, eras come and go, the past never comes back. When a jewel is made, it captures eternity.
If you look closer, even the most common thing can be completely inimitable and impossible to duplicate, like a leaf, a digital print — perfect without standard. For me, repeating is producing, not creating. I took the habit of never duplicating.
Every piece of jewelry is the responsibility we have towards life. There are at most about 30,000 days in a man’s life — every second passed is a second gone. I have a habit of continuously adding pressure to myself within this ongoing pressure, trying to make the most of every minute and every second.
TOL: What is elegance for you? How do you express it with jewelry?
Chan: Elegance is a character that transpires from inside to the outside. From the jewel’s spirit, meaning, sentimental value, and originality, we can tell whether it’s elegant. But the quality of anything is based on the culture of the people — if it is high, then it would be high, if it’s shallow, then it would be shallow. Jewelry is the symbol of human civilisation, the record of history.
For example, in the making of “Now and Always,” I used the Wallace cut I invented in 1987 as a theme. Because the figure of a goddess dates back to Ancient Greece and throughout history, it is already a symbol of elegance in itself. I believe there were a lot of gods in human history that were all real people who used their superhuman determination and abilities to help men in their times.
TOL: Is your necklace “Secret Abyss” the most spectacular work in the Biennial Show in Paris?
Chan: This work is part of the magic of this Biennial. The other big surprise is the world’s biggest gem in history, 167 carat, that will be exhibited. That is a once in a century chance to see such an antique.
TOL: To finish, what is your understanding of life that you would like to share with our readers?
Chan: The success of the next minute is based on the beginning of this minute.
Conversing with Wallace Chan is like reuniting with a long lost friend. At the end of the interview, he bade us goodbye with his hands pressed together in a soft bow.
© Wallace Chan